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MFS Modern Fiction Studies 47.4 (2001) 753-773



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A Slow and Dark Birth:
Aesthetic Maturation and the Entelechic Narrative in James Joyce's Ulysses

Eric D. Smith


In The Art of Joyce's Syntax in Ulysses (1980) Roy Gottfried devotes an entire chapter to examining Joyce's implementation of the entelechy, what he defines as "the fulfillment of possibilities in matter by the action of form, a realization that [is] achieved by the kinetic process of movement" (81). Though Gottfried confines his analysis to Joyce's use of entelechic syntactic constructions, one need not make too great an imaginative leap to perceive the larger entelechic structure that binds Joyce's four novels (including the aborted Stephen Hero) as a conceptual whole, each member of which contains in itself the unrealized potential for the next. Ulysses is a unique member of this conceptual whole in that it records stylistically the chain of becoming that precedes it and gestures in true entelechic fashion toward latent stylistic potentialities that succeed it.

To chart fully the trajectory of its own genesis and development, Ulysses adopts the metaphor of the human body. In a letter accompanying the now (in)famous Linati schema Joyce writes: "[Ulysses] is the epic of two races (Israel-Ireland) and at the same time the cycle of the human [End Page 753] body as well as a little story of a day (life)" (qtd. in Ellmann, James Joyce 521). The schema itself designates to each episode "a bodily organ and an accompanying stylistic technic--with the exception of the chapters making up the Telemachia, which "does not yet suffer the body" (Ulysses 736). The "cycle" which Joyce alludes to, however, is not to be found in the disparate (in some cases seemingly random) assignation of organs. Rather, the development of the body (novel) is measured by the progressive sequence of stylistic techniques given to each chapter, a crescent stylistic maturation. Hence, the somatic-literary parallel dramatized in the novel by Stephen's encounter with Bloom is reflective of a deeper conjoining of art and life that serves as the connective hub of the novel's complex thematic-stylistic motifs.

According to the Linati schema, Ulysses is partitioned into three intricately balanced movements: Telemachia, the first three chapters, concerned almost exclusively with Stephen; Odyssey, comprised of the middle twelve chapters; and Nostos, the final three chapters. The first chapter of each movement is assigned a technique that situates it in terms of both physical and aesthetic levels of maturation. "Telemachus"is assigned "narrative young," "Calypso" "narrative mature," and "Eumaeus" "narrative old" (Ulysses 736). This tripartitioning of physical and aesthetic (narrative) stages evokes another of Joyce's three-part schemes introduced in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Stephen's three stages of aesthetic development.

In delineating his aesthetic for Lynch in A Portrait, Stephen claims that "art necessarily divides itself into three forms progressing from one to the next" (213), the lyrical, epical, and dramatic. The three-part division of Ulysses, maturing organically from narrative young to narrative old, accords almost exactly in form and concept with the consecutive stages of Stephen's aesthetic; the narrative young style can thus be equated with the lyrical stage of aesthetic development, the narrative mature with the epical, and the narrative old with the dramatic. Yet the three stages are not so clearly divided, for each exhibits vestigial traces of the stage which precedes it as well as (often subtle) glimpses of the stage to come. In this way the style of each chapter may be deemed entelechic, hinting at unactualized possibilities latent in the text, subtly undermining to varying degrees the style (and level of aesthetic maturation) of the chapter itself. This gesture forward is the kinesis necessary to actualize [End Page 754] linguistic possibilities, create new potentialities, and maintain a perpetual motivation, an inherent restlessness in the text that prevents its ossification by incessantly interrogating its own authority. Such is the true genius of Ulysses, a novel which continues to yield...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 753-773
Launched on MUSE
2001-12-01
Open Access
No
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